My unending thanks to Sarah for inviting me to the open house dress rehearsal of Donizetti’s La Fille du Regiment at the Met this morning. It was only my second time there, but what an extraordinary event (and one I’d like to do again and again). The production built around the French diva Natalie Dessay is nothing short of a vibrant joy. Fast and funny, it was a sheer pleasure from start to finish – and it was a “dress rehearsal.” I can only imagine the kind of magic that will emanate through that hallowed hall come opening night on Monday.
I have to admit, I wasn’t familiar with the opera prior to today. In fact, I had forgotten what I was seeing as I made a frenzied trip to NY this morning (don’t ask, it was too traumatic). I soon found out, and am now officially in love with the piece. A delectable opera comique by Donizetti (whose Lucia was a recent smash for Dessay in the same venue), this production was first done in Vienna and Covent Garden, and is now making (what will be) it’s triumphant Met debut. Seriously, the buzz is such that it sold out months ago. They keep it fresh and hilarious. Oh – and Marian Seldes has two marvelous cameos in the second act (non-singing). Who could ask for more?
Peruvian-born tenor Juan Diego Florez tackles the first act aria “Ah, mes amis” with such death defying technique that it seemed like no one wanted the opera to continue. There are nine high C’s in that aria. Yes NINE. HIGH C’S. And he nailed each and everyone with such ease, you’d have thought he was born singing this. I will never forget hearing that aria for the first time, and how I knew before it was over that the audience was going to go completely nuts. (In reading about it, his performance at La Scala in February 2007 broke the 74 year embargo on encores as he sang the entire aria – and nine high C’s for the enraptured audience). Dessay was in top form all around. A tomboyish and playful heroine, she relished in the physical comedy and athleticism in her characterization, tossing off coloratura trills while skipping around the stage, being tossed aloft and even in tantrum. I never thought I’d ever hear a tomboy expressed musically as a coloratura soprano. The match of the two leads was impeccable and find it hard to see or hear anyone else in the roles (all due respect to Pavarotti, Sutherland, Pons, et al). British mezzo-soprano Felicity Palmer was the Marquise and you know what? We could use a gem like her in grande dame musical comedy roles.
Afterwards, there was an enjoyable if slightly staid talk back session. Marian was marvelous as ever. Then Sally, Sarah and myself headed to O’Neals for lunch and a few drinks (and hours of endless conversation). A glorious afternoon.
Fortunately this production will be broadcast. This is from an earlier production of the opera (with Dessay & Florez).
UK Television segment on the opera (and its stars):
“Ah! Mes Amis”
“Chacun le Sait, Chacun le Dit”
“Salut a la France”